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NEW YORK — Oscar de la Renta is pulling up stakes at 550 Seventh Avenue to relocate to a West 42nd Street address spacious enough to stage his runway shows.
This story first appeared in the May 5, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Fashion insiders will get a glimpse of his new digs in the Salmon Tower Building on May 16, when de la Renta holds his resort show in what will still be a raw space. In September or October, the designer and his staff will relocate to a 30,000-square-foot space at 11 West 42nd Street, where Michael Kors is among the tenants. Provided the resort show goes off without a hitch, de la Renta’s next few runways shows will probably be held there, he said. The designer first began showing at 583 Park Avenue in June 2007.
“I don’t see any real need to do a megashow and to have 300 extra people there who have no real relation to your business,” de la Renta said. “I don’t want to do a show to be a window for an upcoming star. I want my clothes to be the star.”
More intimate shows were in vogue when de la Renta started the New York chapter of his career in the 23-story Buchman & Kahn-built building. “When I started showing my clothes, we would have six models who brought their own shoes and did their own hair and makeup. Now we have megashows that no one really needs,” he said. “People can look at the show on their iPad or on the Internet. They can get total information about everything whenever they want to. The world is moving very rapidly in many different directions and I have to grab every opportunity there is to be part of that changing world.”
Lyndon Johnson was in the White House when the designer first started working for Jane Derby at his current address. And with the exception of a two-year stint in the Elizabeth Arden Building, de la Renta has never worked anywhere else in New York. Momentous as the move may seem, the designer was far from sentimental when reached by phone Wednesday. “I love it here, but I also love the idea of moving. I think fashion is a revolving door, and to be alive you have to keep that revolving door moving,” he said. “This is literally the only place I’ve worked since 1965. It’s been a very long time, but this is sort of like getting fresh air now.”
Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Pauline Trigère were already ensconced in 550 Seventh Avenue when de la Renta started working for Derby. “Every one of the so-called big names were here. It is obviously very different times now. But Donna [Karan] is still here, and Ralph Lauren,” he said, referring to fellow tenants at 550 Seventh Avenue. “I would have loved to have stayed here, but we couldn’t get a floor above us or below us.”
As for how pivotal de la Renta’s departure will be to the already fracturing neighborhood, the designer said, “As fashion has become a global business and businesses have expanded, people are operating in different areas and different parts of the city. The nucleus of the Garment Center already broke up a long time ago. Whether we have designers still on Seventh Avenue or somewhere else, we are all New York designers, and that’s what matters.”
Providing de la Renta’s 75 staffers — some of whom have had to make do with work spaces that were once closets — with more elbow room is what matters to Alex Bolen, chief executive officer of Oscar de la Renta Inc. With 10,000 square feet of additional space, the new location will also have designated areas for categories the company has strengthened or introduced in recent months.
“As we have expanded into fragrance, bags, shoes and accessories, our staff has just been on top of each other to the point where the office is very cramped and confined,” said Bolen.
Meyer Davis Studio, the architectural firm that has pitched in with most of de la Renta’s 10 boutiques, as well as his in-store shops, is designing the new space. The company will occupy the entire 25th floor and part of the 24th floor in the Salmon Tower Building. And de la Renta has already taken to the sweeping view of Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. “I’m happy with the view and all the natural light.”
But at day’s end, a company is defined by its team, not its address. “I don’t think a place is made by the physical space. It’s the spirit of the people working at the place,” de la Renta said.